Water Plant The Only Option, Parksville Mayor Says
Posted on April 27, 2015 by Chris Raines
Story By Brian Wilford
The City of Parksville has finally agreed to hold a town-hall meeting on its dire water situation but don’t expect to find an open mind.
In a meeting with RB News April 13, Mayor Marc Lefebvre made it clear the city and Regional District of Nanaimo will press on with building a $35-million water-treatment plant and river intake.
Under pressure from the Parksville Residents’ Association, among others, city council voted to hold a town-hall meeting by mid-April but the mayor ignored the motion, saying the city had “nothing to share.”
RB News then proposed a moderated online panel discussion on the water situation but the mayor declined, saying the city had instead decided to go with an information session, followed by a town-hall meeting.
However, other options for water sources, such as drilling wells or piping down well water from elevation, aren’t on the table, he said.
It’s too late in the game to change course now, said Lefebvre, from Day One a member of the management board “We couldn’t drill enough wells to replace the river water,” he said.
The ERWS is a joint venture of Parksville (74%) and the RDN (26%) formed to supply water to the city and Nanoose Bay.
Both Parksville and Nanoose Bay consider their primary water sources to be wells, with river water as summertime backup, though in recent years, as aquifers have been drawn down, slightly more than half of the city’s annual after supply has come from the river.
In his meeting with RB News, Lefebvre claimed emphatically that in the beginning all options were considered and public input invited.
A 2005 report from Koers and Associates Engineering recommended a $52.8-million treatment plant with a new intake upriver from the Parksville industrial park and other urban leachate and runoff.
In conjunction with Island Health, they chose an intake site in Top Bridge Regional Park between the suspension bridge and Highway 19.
The project cost was reduced to a more palatable level by proposing to build a smaller plant to a 20-year build-out which could later be expanded to the full 50-year build-out.
In 2008, Island Health issued its 4-3-2-1 guidelines for treating surface drinking-water sources such as the Englishman River.
It gave the ERWS until Dec. 31, 2016 to have the new plant and intake up and running, the options being to use wells-only or to draw from the river under a boil-water order.
The ability to meet that deadline seemed in jeopardy as the ERWS failed to secure federal-provincial infrastructure funding but the real kicker came from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO).
In a letter dated Feb. 23, 2015, DFO said the new intake, which would involve substantial concrete work in the river bed and riverbank, would cause “serious harm to fish,” both because of the structure and because of the quantity of water taken (double the current amount).
That effectively left the project dead in the water.
Lefebvre, however, dismisses the letter, saying it
was written by “a local official.”
The ERWS, he said, is pursuing the matter with the official’s “bosses in Vancouver.”
A formal appeal of the DFO ruling would likely take until the fall of 2017, with no guarantee of a different outcome.
As a result, ERWS program manager Mike Squire has said the city’s water supply may be in trouble in the summer of 2016.
Lefebvre told RB News he is “very worried about this summer.”
The town-hall meeting is being preceded by two “public information sessions” hosted by the ERWS: Tuesday, May 19, 3-7 p.m., Parksville Community and Conference Centre, and Wednesday, May 20, 7 p.m., Nanoose Place.
The town-hall meeting will be Thursday, May 28, 7 p.m., at Knox United Church in Parksville.
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